- Interviews
John Waite

I am preaching to the converted in describing John Waite as a legend. The former singer for the Baby's, Bad English, and producer of five very fine solo records, is about to unleash his sixth solo record. It promises to break more new ground for a singer who has had his ups and downs, but is currently riding high with enthusiasm.
I chose to leave the interview in it's original format, rather than into a life story, because as a conversation it was relaxed and light hearted - mostly! See what you think.....


John, how are you!
Andy baby!

How are you doing?
I am very well. Thank you. How are you?

Great! It is an honor to speak to you. Thank you for taking my call.
It's all right mate! How's Australia?

Good actually.
Where abouts are you?

I am in Hobart, Tasmania. Almost at the bottom of the earth.

It's about 6am and it's fairly cold. How's New York?
Stinking hot – we are right in the middle of summer, so it's stinking hot.

How are you these days?
Great, boiling also! I have just finished a record, and it is about another 3 weeks until the single comes out so I am watching a lot of videos and going for long walks.

Relaxing before the storm?
Yeah, kinda I guess. It's New York. I am used to it, so I try and keep busy.

How is the new label for you?
Well it's been great. It is a major label. It is like being back on Epic, but it's hipper, because they have got more adventurous acts. I think Mercury is a great company and it is interesting, it is good to be with a major label.
My last record was on a smaller label, 'Temple Bar'. And that was difficult because as soon as I started to have a hit – because I had a major hit with that record in America - but as soon as it went to the top of the charts the record company folded.
It was very difficult.

You sure had some problems with the label.
Yeah, it was a bit hard to take.
But hey, I survived it and at least I got to make a really good record. I love that record, it was a good record.

I love that record too.
Thank you. Thanks very much.
It's great to be back with a fresh start, I am very happy at the moment.

You have some great guys with you on this record.
Yeah, it's the exact same band as last time, only this time around I am producing.
And I used the same engineer as the last record, Tony Phillips.
Tony engineered the whole thing and mixed it for me.
It was very easy to work with these guys, cause three of them are English and two of them worked in Rod Stewart's band for 10 years.
It is like everybody has basically got on foot in Blighty, you know!

With producing the record yourself, did that give you more control over everything?
Well, I controlled the last one. It's just that this time around I was going for a clearer sound. I decided to do what the Beatles did with 'Get Back' and take all the fur of it and lets see it in very black and white terms, and keep everything live. We didn't want any effects on any of the instruments and, all the vocals are dry, and for the most part it is very live indeed.
And there is a slight country influence because I was going for something that was really roots that wasn't going to be rock so much, like blazing guitar solo's and that wall of sound thing. I wanted to get back to something like a cross between Hank Williams and Jimi Hendrix. I am not really sure what I am trying to get at, but I wanted the songs to speak more than the performance. The songs were more important than the ego's involved in making them.

You covered a Hank Williams tune on the last record.
Yeah, well I have had a strong interest in that kind of music for a while now, that song that followed 'Missing You' on the 'No Brakes' album…

'Restless Heart'…
Yeah, its just returning to those kind of roots. It is not such an extension, it's just cutting back the dead wood again.

The lyric quality on Temple Bar was unbelievable, but I will get back to that in a minute. How about on the new album? What style have you been writing in?
I have tried to get away from the first person a bit, but I found myself…'s very much that still. I think 'Temple Bar' was about arriving at an older age and being sort of trying to coexist with all these past lives I have had - being in New York City, being divorced and trying to make a life for myself. And now I think these songs are about arriving at that place and continuing my life. The last album was the beginning of a new life for me. This album has a sense of an autobiographical twist to it, but I did go outside myself and try and write songs about other people.
Which is an interesting also slightly country twist.

Can I ask you about a couple of the titles on 'When You Were Mine'.
Yeah, sure.

'Suicide Life' stands out as an interesting tune.
Is that a necessarily bleak track?
Ha ha ha. It has a double meaning, because the album was originally titled 'Suicide Life', but my manager talked me out of it. And now it is called 'When You Were Mine', which is the single also.

A little more marketable?
Yeah, ha ha. I still would like 'Suicide Life', but I can see his point.
When I was with Bad English I was staying in a Holiday Inn on Highland in Los Angeles.

Yeah, know it well! (One of my favorite LA areas!)
Yeah, just by Hollywood Boulevard. I had been up all night, and I was looking out the window at this bleak smog skyline and the blazing heat outside, and I always have this strange feeling about that end of Hollywood.
I used to go for Martini's at night at this restaurant down there, and pass all these people that arrived in Hollywood and got lost. Even when the Baby's first arrived in Hollywood, there was this guy I kept seeing – a burnt out guy about 33, big beard, straggly hair, obviously schizophrenic, on the streets with no shoes, and I used to buy food for him every now and again. And I used to see him every three or four years. And you begin to wonder where these people exist and how they got where they got to.
Because they were just a baby at one point, you wonder what they felt, how did they get on this strange trip. A lot of it has to do with drugs, and a lot of it is just about being plain fucked up. But that 'Suicide Life' is about people that took the trip and never came back.

'Bluebird Café' – after the reference to the Temple Bar - is that where you hung out during the recording of this album?!!
Pubs that I know kinda thing?! No, Bluebird Café is a small café in Nashville where young hopefuls go play their songs on this stage their, they sort of audition for the rest of Nashville, and it's like where you get your big start.
It is sorta like completely made up, but about some young girls' trip from waiting on tables to getting to the big time.

It sounds like the songs have a real story telling quality to them.
Yeah, I tried to get back to that. I felt the most interesting parts of 'Temple Bar' were the songs that actually told stories. It seems a very 80's rock thing to be just singing cliques and about the same thing all the time.

Even on Bad English there are a few songs like that.
Yeah, I was trying to get that into the writing with Bad English. Actually I was pretty successful with that. I managed to get them to go for that.

How about the cover of the Dylan song 'Just Like A Woman'?
Are you a fan of Bob Dylan?

Yeah, big time! I think one of the albums that I was trying in some way align the sound of this album to was 'Blonde On Blonde', and the Beatles' 'White Album'. 'Just like a Woman' is from the 'Blonde On Blonde' album.
I used to listen to in the morning to see if I could put myself in that head space before we carried off the first song.

Your covers on the last album fitted in well, within the same sound. You know? They didn't sound like they were out of place.
I guess it is the same this time around….

Well it is hard to do a Dylan song. It is just such an enormous challenge. It is normally a train wreck!
You know, I have heard people do Dylan songs and Bob Marley songs and it's just horrendous. I think it is a genuine challenge to any singer to pull off a Bob Dylan song.
I was looking for that kind of challenge.

I must ask you about the last track. A Christmas song?
There is this benefit every Christmas down at the Bottom Line, that Glen Burtnik puts together, and all his friends turn up and they all play. I wrote the song for that.
It has been such a success. It's a country waltz you know.
It is my favorite song actually!

Oh yeah? Well, you have worked a bit with Glen, live and on 'Temple Bar'.
When I talked to him a while back, he had nothing but high praise.

Oh that's very nice of him, he's a great guy.

Did you enjoy working with him?
Yeah, we wrote 'Downtown' together.

That's my favorite song off 'Temple Bar'.
That is mine too. That was as good as 'Missing You' I thought. That was an extremely high note to hit, and there is only a few people that can go into that place and come out with something, and Glen's one of them.

You did some acoustic gigs with him.
Yeah, we used to go out and just play sets of music to people.

Speaking of which, did you record any of those shows?
No, we just didn't have the presence of mind for that. It was a lot looser than you might think. We would just think of something and start playing it.
We used to do a lovely version of Downtown on acoustic guitar, but nope, we didn't record any.

Shame, I would have loved to have head at least one of the gigs!
Well we played this strip club once. We were doing a radio promotion and they put us on the runway of this strip club. It was pretty funny! I would kill for a tape of that! There were some memorable gigs, it was a good time.

'Temple Bar' was a very mellow record, what is the tempo of the new one?
I think there is more, er, rock if you like, there is a song called I-95 that is like completely over the top, very fast.
I am trying to move into a different area, I have played straight ahead rock n roll nearly all my life, and mixed ballads into it.
And played them in a certain way also, and after a while, it's like if something works some bands keep doing the same thing over and over again and hope it makes the same success.
I just feel that I owe the public something else, you know.
If you like the older records, you've already got them. This album and the last album were written in the same style as the first Baby's record as far as song writing goes. But I don't choose to go into certain areas that I have investigated pretty strongly, but again, if you played all this stuff live, it would probably be about 10 notches up.

After the second Bad English album, 'Backlash', it seemed an eternity until 'Temple Bar'. You had record company problems and a long time to fill in.
The lyrics on 'Temple Bar' seemed to reflect where you were at mentally.
Was it a hard slog getting back?

Well with Bad English I finished the record and did a bit of promotion for it and I said goodbye. I said I was going to leave.
There was a big bust up in the middle of the second record about where we were going to go, and I just wasn't going to go into arena rock, I just wasn't.
And it was a very bad time, almost impossible.
We had to start from scratch. We went into the studio with hardly any songs, which was a major mistake, and was hit by the truth. We just didn't have any songs. I was working like 18 hours a day on songs. Being in the studio you know, it was just an impossible situation. I really burnt myself out. I said I would finish the record and I said I would honor all the contracts. I felt compelled to stay through that situation, but when I did leave, I think it colored me in a very bad light, because I walked away from a very successful thing, even though it was shaky, it was me who broke the chain.
But there was no amount of money that would have persuaded me to stay. I took it all very personally, and I was very angry at the situation, but I honored the contracts and I left.
It made me into a black sheep. Businessmen that run the music business don't want to hear about artistic integrity when you are talking about millions of dollars.
They really don't. They think that is like a token fantasy to them, they don't know what you are talking about, when you talk about art. They think art is short for Arthur.
I think I had a hard time getting back on the beam, because it was hard to find a company that would believe in me. You know if you are not going to make them a million dollars and do the expected thing, what god are you to them?
But the guy that was running Imago records gave me a shot and gave me Carte Blanch really. I was really grateful to him for letting me back in the ring, and I the album I made 'Temple Bar', was probably the best album I've made to date.
But that is what was wrong.
I was very aware during the second Bad English record, of what was going on in Seattle. I had a big poster of Iggy Pop tacked up in my vocal booth and stuff, and a big Union Jack. It wasn't like I was on this big trip to become….like, I didn't want it to be arena rock. I wanted to bring something more threatening and dark into that picture, because we had the world's attention and we could have done a lot more to change the mainstream of American music. We had the balls and it was up to the people to have balls to do something, or just go along just like everybody else is going.
Which is something I couldn't and just wouldn't do.

A dark record I think would have been extraordinary!!
It would have been wonderful. There are moments on 'Backlash' that would get there. But it wasn't what they were doing, and I think it says a lot about them that we tried going to some of those areas. But at the end of the day given their choices, they would go straight back to the Journey stuff, and they did.

You always said you would like to do a Bad English live record, as you thought you had a great band. Did you record any of those shows?
No. Yeah that was unfortunate. It was just one of those things that never happened. I though that was going to be our crowning glory, go out on a high note. Even though we only did two records, I thought we would really put out a great live album with like, some new songs on it, but we could never agree on anything. We never shared the vision of where we were going or why. It was hard to do things like that.

So not much chance of working with the guys again?
I don't think that is ever going to happen, no.

What was harder – the period up to and recording 'Temple Bar', or the collapse of the label and the time after that?
Well, that was interesting. No, it was the two years of just sitting there. Cause I had been on tour for a couple of years, I had made two albums and hadn't stopped running. And then I had 2 years of…
I went back into Italy and spent about two months drifting around then I went all over Britain, then I went back to America.
But I was just basically trying to disappear. I didn't want to be making any more records at that point anyway. I think I went Italy for so long because I couldn't speak any of the jargon, it was hard to get hold of me, and it was hard to have a conversation with anybody there.
I just had everybody leaving me alone.

And that was good, eh?
Yeah, yes it was!

Was it hard to find the willpower to get back up and start again?
No, I was always writing poetry and lyrics and stuff, but the music end of it – I was waiting for something to come that was more honest.
I mean the idea of 'Temple Bar' was a very subtle idea, it wasn't grab a bunch of commercial rock songs and put them out, and shake your ass and jump up and down, it was a pretty grown up record.

I think the style caught a lot of people off guard.
It took me a few listens for me. I was like wow – what's this?
Ha ha ha ha.
Wait till you hear the new one!

Yeah, sorry to describe it like that, but after a few listens I was hooked and I love it. It does sound like maybe your most consistent record.
Thank you.

Did you get a good response from it?
Um, yeah. I got like A+ reviews. I got the best reviews of my career. But it being on a smaller record it was difficult.
We got to number 2 on AC (Adult Contemporary) and that is when the bottom fell out. Right near the top of the charts and Imago just dropped the ball, and lost momentum.
That was hard. It was kinda weird to watch that happen. At least I got to make the record.

What is the status of it now? Imago is sort of semi-going aren't they?
Yeah, I don't know what they are doing. They sold the record to another record company who put it out. I was in London last week and you could buy it at Tower in Picadilly for 19 pounds.

Oh dear!
Yeah! But I managed to take three tracks and put them on a greatest hits album I have just released, about four or so months ago. So the best tracks went on the album and you can get that.

I will ask you about a couple of songs on the 'Temple Bar' album.
'Price Of My Tears'….

Yeah, that was about living in an apartment building in New York, just hating the world really.

It sounded like it!
Well you know, you turn on the TV and see these fucking God-awful confessional talk shows, with men wearing dresses and jumping out of windows.
Fucking hell! I would wake up in the morning and then I would go down the corner to an Irish bar called Kennedy's about 12 o'clock, have a couple of pints of Guinness, get some food, go to the movies. I lived a very solitary life.
'Price Of My Tears' was about living in this apartment looking out on this city, sort of in this vacuum.

The other track I love is 'More'.
Oh great, yeah. That is a beautiful song. That is about spiritual yearning. It is about a similar thing. About being caught in this vacuum and it is just all there is kinda thing. I do like that song.

I have heard of a couple of things, but is there many John Waite archive recordings sitting in a vault somewhere.
I have got 14 songs that I recorded before 'Missing You'. When I had got away from Chrysalis, I went into the studio and cut all these sides, and they are 24 track masters. I would like to release them. Possibly I will do another Greatest Hits record for EMI England, and I might include some of that stuff on it.

Were some of those songs featuring Eddie Van Halen?
Oh no, that is on a live track, when Eddie gets up and plays.
Oh, was that the Van Halen rumor?
Somebody told me that in Australia there was a rumor that I had joined Van Halen. Ha ha ha ha.

Yeah that was probably me! Not that I started it, but I heard something to that effect, and passed it along to Gold Mountain.

Okay, how about a comment on each of your solo records.

It's a good album that. It goes back to a period, just a wonderful time for me. I had just got to New York, and I felt like I was on fresh ground and had enormous energy. It reflects New York to me. When I think of it, I think 1980-81, and all the songs were written about New York so I has a tremendous sentimental effect on me. I was living right opposite where John Lennon was shot – Central Park West and 72nd St.

A very live sounding record.
Yeah, recorded at the Power Station.

'No Brakes'?
Great, because I had just come back from England. I had actually gone home and quit the business and gone home and got married.
I came back to work with Gary Myrick, the guitar player. We put a whole thing together in LA and ran with it. We were writing like, a song a day and recording it at night.
So that was like a watershed album, it was great time for me. Also 'Missing You' happened at that time. It all came right. For once it all came completely right.

'Mask of Smiles'?
That was a bit sadder. I had been on the road for year and a half, I had come off…….I think a lot of those songs were kind of, not so much sad – because it was a great time, it was a really good time, but I was nackered.
I was trying to find some sort of time away. I had this tremendous involvement with this really beautiful girl I had been seeing for 6 months, and I was in love with her. I remember being in the Westwood marquee, living in there writing songs, it was a great period. It's a lovely album, but I think at the end of that period, I was just beat.
I had just bought a new house in Westchester, come back from a world tour, trying to keep the band together, cause the band was falling apart.
It was just business as usual really, there is some lovely songs on there. 'Just Like Lovers' is a great song and 'The Choice'.

I also like the track 'No Brakes'. Was that a left over from the album of that name?
Yeah, that was actually written back with those songs that haven't been released yet. It was one of those songs from that period. I had the title in my head, it was a great title for that record, but it just wasn't appropriate to be on it.

And my favorite album of yours, 'Rovers Return'.
Great, yeah. That was just a full out great record actually. I said after that record I wouldn't do another solo record. I didn't think I could better it.
There were just some great songs on that record, and it was done well.
Frank Fillipetti engineered it, and he was co-producer on some of the stuff on it, it was just really great.
But when I came out of that I had no intention of ever going back and recording a solo album. That's why I put together a band, cause Bad English came after that. I just wanted to be in a band. I didn't think I could make another solo record.

Favorite album?

Yeah, out of everything ever!
I think all of them have a place in my heart somewhere. I think 'Head First', the third Baby's album. It is surprisingly good. I heard it again the other day, and I really thought My God! There is a confidence there and a clarity in the writing that is way ahead of its time, for my age. And I think it was strong record.
But I think 'Temple Bar' and this album 'When You Were Mine', these last two I think are the most revealing. But then again, as you get older you try and define your writing and not try and bullshit and use cliques to actually say what is going on. Even if you try and say it in a way that is still not so revealing that it is embarrassing, it's still art. I think I have really cut to the heart of the matter with these last two records. Really cut to the bone.

Yeah, it was a different perspective listening to a John Waite record with such personal lyrics.
Well that is what I am trying to get to. I am trying to get away from the Rock N Roll singer bullshit, and still have the rock n roll heart. But no use the devices given to you by other people. It is a wonderful art form, is rock n roll.
You have to try and treat it with some kind if respect.

And for the future?
I am going to go and throw this baby out, and see if it's a hit.
I think it is going to go quite well.
Yeah, I am going to do a tour and take it as far as I can. I would like to put a large band together, a touring band, very spontaneous, and get out there and play some gigs. Play as long as I can.

Obviously with the new album and bigger label, there is going to be a lot more promotion. Are there any plans yet?
Well, there will be a tour. I will definitely tour. And we are doing 20 dates in about three weeks when the single comes out.
We are going to some unplugged gigs in tiny clubs across America. Just me and a guitar player.
But should the single show any signs of being a hit, I will be out on a full-scale tour.

How about an Australian tour?
You know, that is the one thing I have not done. If I can get down there I'll come. And I think with Mercury at the wheel, they will let me come if I insist.
If we get any kind of response down there, I always said I would come, and there has always been something that has gone wrong.

Well John, thanks for your time today. I will get this interview on line as soon as possible.
What do you think of the whole net thing?

It's interesting, I was talking to some fans in Chicago yesterday, and it is really cool. I try and write back to people who write to me. I sit down and write letters. I usually get about 10 letters out a week, I mean I really do write back. But with the Internet, you can say I am going to talk to so and so, and you can find the number and get hold of them, it's pretty cool.

Have you got an e-mail address?
No, just the management company. I can't type and I haven't got a computer! So I just sit here with the guy and type things out and send them!
But I try and avoid the technology thing here. I am still learning to restring a guitar.
Ha ha ha
I am not kidding either!!

Okay John, thanks again!
Okay, well stay in touch, and let us know what you do with it, we will be very curious to see how it all comes out.

Good luck John.
God bless.

And that was that! Many thanks to Toon for her help. Make sure you are a regular visitor to her great JW web page for more news updates.
Also thanks to JD and the management co. at Gold Mountain New York, for their co-operation.

c.1997 Andrew J McNeice